SATIN – Album Review: “Origami Heart”

Satin is a Los Angeles-based alternative rock band, whose music is influenced by a range of rock subgenres, including but not limited to classic, alternative, progressive, hard and even Southern rock. Fronted by singer-songwriter and guitarist Robert Cross, the group also includes David Bucci (lead guitar), Scott Wintermute (bass) and producer Tim Frantz (drums, keyboards). Cross also plays keyboards and synthesizers. They released their debut album Drop Dead Gorgeous in 2019, and on September 2nd, dropped their follow-up album Origami Heart, which they’ve asked me to review.

The album’s fairly long with 13 tracks, many of them addressing the minefields of love and relationships, and the heartache and pain that result when love dies or things go terribly wrong. But for the most part, the band lives up to their Satin moniker, delivering honest, relatable lyrics with pleasing melodies, tight rhythms, outstanding guitar work and Cross’s mostly laid-back vocal style.

Case in point is the pretty opening and title track “Origami Heart“, with it’s gently upbeat Southern rock vibes. The sweet lyrics celebrate the euphoria of feeling strong romantic love for another: “Oh I can’t escape the joy of being close to your nape. Feeling the softness of your skin as I catch your scent as I breathe in. As I fold you in my arms like an origami heart.” But the euphoria turns to sadness on the lovely Tom Petty-esque “Sabotage“, as Cross laments about how his actions damaged his relationship beyond repair: “It didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t come without cause. But I’ll never hold you again, as our love’s come to end. Yes I’m a master of sabotage.”

Continuing on that theme of feeling remorse, the dark “My Every Nightmare” speaks to the negative outcomes resulting from one’s self-destructive behavior: “Somehow it seems that by chasing my dreams, I made my every nightmare come true.” And on “Useless“, Cross sings of his sad realization that it’s now too late to make up for his bad behavior: “Cuz it tears at me from the inside out, knowing I was so naïve and clueless somehow. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that any love I have for you is useless now.”

Satin dip their toe into prog rock on the stunning “In This Wonderland“, one of my favorite tracks on the album. The layered jangly and psychedelic guitars are gorgeous, and the bass and measured percussion are perfection, flawlessly transitioning from subtle to tumultuous. The lyrics are filled with fairy tale references to describe feelings of losing touch with reality, unable to make sense of anything anymore: “Madness descends and surrounds me like a prison cell, As harlequins all around me chase white rabbits and dragon’s tails. This nonsense is hard to believe So forgive me if I don’t understand Cuz nothing is quite what it seems In this wonderland.”

They channel their harder rock side on “My One and Only“, where they let loose with a volley of heavy riffs and driving rhythms. Similar to “My Every Nightmare”, the lyrics speak of being unable to escape from self-destructive behaviors: “I constantly find myself wasting my precious time engaged in actions destructive to me. Deep down I know I’ve been holding on to something selfishly. My one and only love.” “Music Box” is a brief but grandiose cinematic instrumental interlude that immediately segues into “Love to Be Loved“, a lively head-bopping rocker about wanting another to love you as much as you love them.

Another favorite is “Move On“, a beautiful anthemic ballad with stirring orchestral strings and twangy guitars that lend a bit of a Western feel in the vein of great songs like “Wichita Lineman”. The poignant lyrics speak to coming to terms with the fact that a relationship is over and that it’s time to let it go and move on: “Those times went by so fast and now they’re gone. Left with the right choices and the wrong. And I’ve spent a long time waiting… And now it’s time to move on.”

Album closer “Fearless” ends things on a decidedly pessimistic note. The biting lyrics are somewhat ambiguous in that they could be directed by the singer toward another or perhaps to themselves: “Could you take a look at the lines on your face and recognize them as your own? Could you realize the scars, they can’t be erased? They only get worse as you sit there alone within your home. And there’s not a thing you can do to save your soul. Fearless as you are, you’re still out of control.” This song has a bit of prog rock feel as well, with interesting time signatures and dramatic guitar runs.

I’ll be honest, it took a couple of listens for this album to really grab me, but once it did, I came to more fully appreciate the many nuances of the music, as well as the album’s fine arrangements and production values. This is why I’m a strong believer in giving music a chance before hearing it once and quickly dismissing it. So listen to Origami Heart with open ears and an open mind, and hopefully you’ll come to like it as much as I do.

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DYING HABIT – Single Review: “Think”

Dying Habit is an alternative rock band from the Isle of Anglesey in northwest Wales, and comprised of brothers Nathan (vocals & bass) and Mark Jones (drums), and their best friend Alan Hart (guitar). Formed in 2016, they play an intense and grungy style of melodic alternative rock steeped in progressive undertones and teeming with complexity and nuance. I’ve followed them pretty much since their beginning, and have written about them several times on this blog, most recently last November when I reviewed their excellent debut album Until the Air Runs Out. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the end of this post.)

In August, Dying Habit returned with a terrific new single “Think“, which will be included on their forthcoming EP Antidotes, due for release later this year. It’s a darkly beautiful banger, featuring the signature melodic time changes, compelling lyrics and brilliant instrumentation we’ve come to expect from these talented musicians. Alan’s intricate guitar work is fantastic, with so many different layers and textures at play – from lovely chiming chords to thunderous fuzz-coated chugging riffs to flourishes of screaming distortion – that it sounds like there are three guitarists instead of only one. Meanwhile, the Jones brothers drive the powerful rhythm forward with a pummeling bassline and explosive drumbeats, all working in a glorious alchemy to create a spine-tingling backdrop for Nathan’s plaintive vocals.

The band states the lyrics describe the thoughts of someone after having killed themselves: “It’s morning. I don’t know. Turning to the light for something. The sunlight is getting in my eyes. There’s only one way this day is going. Memories are coming back but I don’t know what to do. There’s blood on my face and I’m lying next to you. / I think they’re going to take me straight to hell. Demon’s taking over everything. What the hell am I supposed to do. I got a bad feeling.” While the subject is arguably grim, the song is great, and I think it just might be one of Dying Habit’s best yet.

Connect with Dying Habit:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music: Apple Music / SpotifySoundcloud

Purchase their music:  AmazonBandcamp

Awen Veleda & The Wandering Lights – EP Review: “An Alien Invasion in the Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude)”

Awen Veleda & The Wandering Lights is a Brighton, England-based music collective that brings together musicians from around the world to create a unique brand of contemporary folk. The project is headed by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Mike Five (who also plays guitar for the rock band 1 in Five and co-hosts a music podcast with Dr. Bones). They’ve just released their debut EP An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude), a concept work exploring how people deal with the unexpected, manage change through their own beliefs and context, and find ways to work together. The name Awen Veleda is a fictitious person, with ‘Awen’ meaning inspiration, while ‘Veleda’ was a 1st century prophetess who was worshipped by Germanic peoples, and her name has come to be synonymous with inspirational wisdom.

The story for An Alien Invasion In The Petty Kingdoms (Part 1: Prelude) is set in 9th Century Britain, amid an unexpected and shocking event that unfolds through the voices of various characters, all scrambling to understand the truth and come to agreement about how to deal with it. The collaborative EP is based on an original narrative and accompanying music written by Mike Five, with lyrics and lead vocals by GRIM17. In addition to Mike Five, who played guitars, organ, piano, drums, synths, shakers, tambourines and birdsong recordings, and GRIM17, for this EP The Wandering Lights is also comprised of One Blind Mouse, who performed the string arrangements and also mixed and mastered the EP, Gemma Kirk, who sang backing vocals on “A Message to the King”, Becca Wright, who played fiddle on “The Witan” and “Chieftain Caiside”, Iona James, who sang backing vocals on “The Real Ealdorman”, Ron Bowes, who played harmonica on “The Real Ealdorman”, Sadie-Rei, who sang joint lead vocals on “Lucrezia”, and Rae Cameron, who played flute on “Lucrezia”.

In advance of the EP’s release on Bandcamp on September 3rd, The Wandering Lights have also released music videos for three of the tracks. The EP will be released on all other music streaming platforms on November 5th. They’ve included all the lyrics for each song on their Bandcamp page.

The EP begins with “A Message to the King“, which describes the adventures of two messengers who travel day and night to reach the King with the terrifying news that an army of mysterious mercenaries has invaded the eastern end of the kingdom. But this is no ordinary group of heathens, as they may not even be human. Unsure themselves of what they’ve actually seen, or that anyone would believe them, their message must reach the King at all costs.

The song opens and closes with spacey sci-fi sounds, a nod to the mysterious alien nature of the invaders. But for the bulk of the track, the music settles into a dark and haunting soundscape of mournful piano and stings, accompanied by Mike Five’s strummed acoustic guitar. GRIM17’s vocals are perfect for the song’s dark mood, and Gemma King’s ethereal choral vocals add a wonderful ghostly vibe.

For the official video, Mike Five and Co. overlaid their track onto the original video for “The King” by Italian animator Goga Mason, which was itself a retelling of the classic story of King Kong. Though it’s a fascinating and compelling video, the visuals do not match the storyline of “A Message to the King”, so I’m not sure why they would use it for this song.

On track two, “The Witan“, a quickly-assembled witan advises the King to take immediate action against the invaders, but before he acts he must uncover the facts and separate them from rumor and superstition. (In England from the 6th to 10th centuries, a witan was a wise man who advised the king on specific issues, and often a member of the Witenagemote, or assembly of wise men, which was the forerunner of the future English Parliament.) Led by a dominant thumping drumbeat overlain with moody strings and acoustic guitar and highlighted by Becca Wright’s lively fiddle, the song has an ancient Celtic feel.

The Red Ealdorman” (an ealdorman, old English for alderman, was an official of Anglo-Saxon England appointed by the king, who was responsible for law, order, and justice in his shire and for leading his local fyrd, or militia) addresses the efforts by a particular official who’s sent by the King to raise the fyrd and gather an army in preparation for battle. Because of the unusual and potentially daunting circumstances behind their mysterious foe, the King will need all the help he can assemble, even from his enemies – in this case a Celtic Chieftain and his tribe. The prominent organ used in the track gives it a gospel feel, while Ron Bowes’ haunting harmonica and Iona James’ lovely backing vocals add a nice folk touch. Also, to my ears, GRIM17’s vocals on this track remind me a bit of U2’s Bono Hewson.

The video produced for this track enlisted the help of The Wandering Lights’ own army of music lovers from around the world, their own personal fyrd, if you will.

Chieftain Caiside” sees the red ealdorman, aka the crimson man, meeting with the King’s nemesis Chieftain Caiside, and delivering an urgent message of peace and unity, in their common need to defeat a newfound foe. Thankfully, the chieftain is responsive, and promises his support to the King: “The crimson man rides from my sights, with a message I sent that I hope is right. I won’t be the reason for the downfall these kingdoms may yet incur. I’ve heard your words, I’ve heard your words. Uncommon enemies.” Once again, Becca Wright’s rousing fiddle is a highlight of the song.

The final track “Lucrezia” is the most beautiful of the five, and also my favorite. At this point in the saga, the King, struggling to get to the truth, comes to the realization that the unusual challenges he faces will require creative solutions. He concludes that to achieve the greater good, one sometimes has to do something possibly sinful by comporting with beings outside his own religion, and contacts the Priestess Lucrezia to see if her visions can offer guidance – whilst praying to his own God for forgiveness. “Lucrezia, you’ve been light, love and teacher, So much for so long. But once more I must beg your indulgence. Could you lend me your song?” to which she replies with promise of her assistance that also comes with a warning: “King, I lend you arm and leg so you can make amends .Abuse them not. I am nonviolent until you force my hand.”

GRIM17’s vocals are raw, plaintive and heartfelt on this track, and the silky croons of Sadie-Rei (of the California alt-pop/punk band Until Further Notice) are as enchanting as we’d expect from a priestess. I love the sounds of chirping birds, as well as Mike Five’s beautiful acoustic guitar, One Blind Mouse’s somber strings, and Rae Cameron’s captivating flute. It’s a gorgeous ending to Part 1 of this saga, which I’m now eager to watch unfold.

Drawing on Scars with Jodie Reid – Single Review: “Take It”

Music collaborations between artists seem to be more popular than ever, especially with recording and production technology that makes long-distance collaborations possible. A fine example is the new single “Take It” by Atlanta-based music project Drawing on Scars and South African singer-songwriter Jodie Reid. It’s their third collaboration together, following “Here Comes Some More” in November 2020, and their haunting single “If Only for a Little While”, released this past April.

Drawing on Scars is the creative brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Will Thacker, who for the past decade has collaborated with vocalists from across the U.S. and beyond in the creation of superb alternative rock songs. Generally, Thacker writes and performs all the music, and the different vocalists write the lyrics, which they then interpret in their own distinct style. The result is an ever-changing music repertoire that always sounds fresh and unique. Since 2019, Drawing on Scars has dropped nine singles, the latest of which is “Take It”. I’ve previously reviewed two of them, “Rewrite” and “Pressure”, which you can check out by clicking on the links under ‘Related’ at the bottom of this post.

Jodie Reid has had music in her blood since childhood, writing her first song at the age of 12 and playing her first live performance while in college, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with honours in Music Performance in 2018. With her strong songwriting and emotive vocal style firmly planted in a sweet spot between a pleasing lilt and impassioned wail, the Johannesburg-based artist has garnered accolades and a growing base of fans. In just two years, she’s already released three albums, most recently Robust Rebellion in July, for which Thacker performed the bass and drum parts.

“Take It” is about choices, namely the difficulty of having to decide which is the better option or road to take, which can sometimes become a paralyzing burden on both yourself as well as those around you. Reid, who wrote the lyrics, elaborates: “‘Take It’ is about a person’s inability to choose a course of action; wanting the best of both worlds but lumbering along without direction. It explores the effects of indecisiveness in close relationships and was inspired by the phrase ‘one lump or two?’ commonly used when a host is offering their guests beverages.

The song blasts open with a barrage of scorching riffs and pummeling rhythms, before catching its breath as Reid’s vocals enter the proceedings. Sounding a bit like Paramore’s Haley Williams, she ruefully sings “Limp in as I struggle to lift the weight that your shoulders seem to carry, just by your indecisiveness. One lump or two? Given time I just might erase the burden that you bear, or maybe I’ll just yell in frustration waiting for you to choose.” Thacker’s a fine musician, and his hard-driving jagged riffs and chugging rhythms return with full force in the choruses as Reid passionately implores “Oh, tell me how do you take it? When you can’t decide which road you’re going down? Oh, tell me now do you fake it? When someone’s trying too hard to figure you out? One lump or two?

It’s a powerful rock banger, and with three very different but equally outstanding singles to their credit, Drawing on Scars and Jodie Reid make a highly successful dream team. I hope they’ll continue to collaborate together on many more songs.

Connect with Drawing on Scars: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple Music / Soundcloud / Reverbnation / YouTube
Purchase on  Bandcamp 

Connect with Jodie: FacebookTwitterInstagram 

Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

Jake LeMond – Single Review: “Miles”

Jake LeMond is an earnest, hard-working and talented young singer-songwriter and musician based in Detroit, Michigan. With his skillful songwriting and impressive guitar work, combined with his professionalism, kind and generous personality and good looks, the gentle-voiced fellow has been making a name for himself on the crowded Michigan music scene, both as a solo artist and as guitarist for pop-rock bands Michigander (with whom he recently performed at Lollapalooza in Chicago) and Hickey Eyes, as well as a frequent collaborator with a host of other acts.

Jake’s music is a pleasing style of indie folk, with heartfelt lyrics brought to life primarily with his nimble guitar work and sweet vocals. He released his excellent debut single “5 Months (Up in Smoke)” in January 2017, and in the years since he’s dropped several more outstanding singles. His latest is “Miles“, a stunning love song released on July 28th, and for which he today premiered a wonderful accompanying video. About “Miles”, Jake explains “I wrote this song in about an hour the day after I got back from a month long tour, and it’s about being far away from someone you really care about.”

The song is gorgeous, with lush layers of strummed acoustic guitars, backed by gentle synths and punctuated by heavier guitar notes perfectly paired with bursts of percussion that provide drama as the track unfolds. The arrangement and recording production by Ben Fisher are flawless, as are the mixing by Jake Rye and mastering by The Foxboro. Jake’s soothing vocals are beautiful too, turning more impassioned as he longingly croons “I’m miles, and miles, and miles away from you.”

The delightful video shows Jake searching for something through a vintage collectibles shop, then he suddenly spots a child’s rocking horse. After a bit of back and forth with the guy working in the shop (also played by Jake), he leaves and is shown doing a number of unpleasant odd jobs to earn the money to buy the horse. He returns to the shop, buys the horse and places it in the back of his old white pickup. The video ends with him riding the horse, as if he’s on his way to see his loved one.

Connect with Jake:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream his music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

Purchase:  AmazonBandcamp

New Song of the Week – GUARDRAIL: “Social Meteor”

While Chicago-based rockers Guardrail don’t take themselves too seriously – they describe themselves as “the world’s first Diet Punk band, just a combination of ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ that uses Splenda instead of real sugar, and because of that, until you get used to us, we’re going to leave a bad taste in your mouth” – they’re quite serious about making the best music possible. Their hard-hitting, high-energy style of rock is a happy blend of punk, pop and metal, which on some songs reminds me of such acts as Green Day, Blink-182, Sum 41 and even the Beastie Boys. Formed in 2014, the band has undergone several changes in lineup, and now consists of Kevin Andrew (lead vocals), Ken Ugel (guitar, vocals), Alyssa Laessig (bass, vocals) and Doug Brand (drums). (Ken is also guitarist for Chicago bands The Million Reasons, who I’ve featured numerous times on this blog, and Wild Gravity.)

They released their debut EP Wordswords in 2015, which they followed two years later with Par at Best. Since cementing their current lineup in 2018, they’ve released several singles and in September 2020, dropped their third EP Yikes. Now they’re back with a new single “Social Meteor“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. True to form, Guardrail delivers a relentless barrage of jagged riffs, chugging bass and explosive drums to drive home their timely message of our cultural addiction to social media, and its pernicious effect on our sense of identity and self-worth.

Kevin and Alyssa sing the biting lyrics with forceful intensity, powerfully expressing their exasperation with things and feelings of helplessness to do anything about it: “There’s real human contact beyond my fingertips, but I couldn’t give a shit. There’s an object unidentified approaching me (Oh wait!), it’s just my self-doubt and uncertainty. Why can’t I come back down? I’m stuck in the stratosphere. My lack of satisfaction left me stranded out here. How should I know what they expect from me? I’ll just write another paragraph and run away from my fear.”

“Social Meteor” is a rousing banger of a tune, and I think it’s one of Guardrail’s best songs yet. The fun video shows snippets of each bandmembers individually performing the song, as well as serving as judges of a low-budget talent show.

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Stream their music:  SpotifyApple Music / Napster / Soundcloud / YouTube

5ON5 – Single Review: “Runaway”

5ON5 is a collaborative music project based in Berlin, Germany, and consisting of four distinctly unique artists who’ve come together to make music that, in their own words, is “a little new, a little naughty, and a bit different.” The quartet itself is a bit different, its members spanning two generations and coming from very different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years of experience in the music industry, and who’s previously released two albums Taboo and GAMES as a solo artist, the project also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was born out of Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects their eclectic mix of music genres and styles, including EDM, synthpop, hip hop and alternative rock.

Over the past year so so, Max and $INAN have been writing songs for their upcoming EP, which the group then came together to record. The first single is “Runaway”, actually a ‘maxi-single’, featuring an original version of the song, along with a special party remix. Drum production was performed by Steve van Velvet, and piano by Hansol Cho. Both tracks were mixed and mastered by Jeson Huang.

The song is infectious as hell, with a wonderful uptempo groove that finds its sweet spot between dubstep and EDM, though the beat most definitely compels our hips to move. Things start off with a simple keyboard riff, then a dominant pulsating bass line enters, putting the track on a solid footing. As the song unfolds, 5ON5 gradually layers a rich palette of swirling synths, lovely piano keys, crisp percussion and edgy surf guitars to create an enchanting soundscape awash in colorful textures and sounds.

But as good as the instruments are, the contrasting vocals and pleasing harmonies of the four members are the real highlight for me. Max’s echoed vocals are sung mostly in a higher register just below a falsetto, giving his verses a mysterious, almost otherworldly vibe. $INAN mumble raps his verses, then with near-perfect harmony, he, Max, Yumin and Maxx B sing the chorus “Would you run away from me, away with me, away with me, would you run away now?

The cool animated video shows the band members walking through a landscape by both day and night, fleeing from troubles and ultimately emerging free and into the light.

The party remix was created by Max, and to my ears sounds pretty similar to the original, other than having a somewhat sharper and cleaner sound with sparser synths. The accompanying video is similar to the main version, except that it’s produced in dark blue hues.

Stream “Runaway” on SpotifyApple Music

MACHINA X – Single Review: “Belong to the Night”

Electronic future-pop duo Machina X (pronounced Mac-in-a) have been making music for more than four years, yet have never actually met in person. Annie lives in Yorkshire, England and works in education, and Cyrus is a musician/producer living in Myanmar. The two met through an online songwriting course in 2017, and after a few collaborative projects, they officially formed Machina X in early 2018. Together, they create a refreshing and distinctive style of what they call ‘electro-eclectica’ that spans across multiple genres, fusing drum and bass beats with ambient, dreamy psych-pop. They’ve recorded both their original songs as well as terrific covers of such iconic songs like Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

Their songs have garnered airplay around the globe, both on internet and FM radio stations, including a BBC Music Introducing Mixtape appearance on BBC Radio6Music this past January. They were named Exile FM’s New and Emerging Artists of 2020, 3rd Best Electro Act by Radio Wigwam, playlisted on Best of BBC Upload 2020 and selected three times as ‘Fresh Favs’ on Fresh on the Net, which resulted in their song “Closure” being featured on Tom Robinson’s Introducing Mixtape in February 2021.

Their latest single “Belong to the Night” is one of five tracks that will be included on their next EP, which the duo state will be “a conceptual and very reflective collection of songs – an emotional jigsaw that draws some parallels with the five recognised stages of grief, journeying through different emotional states. ‘Belong to the Night’ focuses on nostalgia, with it’s dream-like piano intro and soft vocals tapping into an in-between state of something that was, but is no longer.”

The hauntingly beautiful song is awash in shimmery synths, sparkling piano keys and gentle break beats, all creating a dreamy atmospheric soundscape, but with a melancholy undercurrent befitting the bittersweet lyrics. Annie’s soothing vocals are bewitching as she wistfully laments of a relationship lost but not yet come to terms with: “I just wanna feel, feel the way it was before. But life’s forever changing – we both know. Time, she finds new ways to slip away, through our fingers. / We don’t wanna find all the precious things we have destroyed. But maybe it is just a matter of time. And happy endings only happen to other people. I don’t wanna see you cry in the rain. I don’t want to see you belong to the night.” Annie and Cyrus’ ethereal vocal harmonies in the choruses are particularly captivating.

For the time being, their music is available for streaming or purchase only on Bandcamp, while videos of several of their songs can be seen on YouTube.

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Stream/download their music on BandcampYouTube

THE ZANGWILLS – Single Review: “Never Looked Back”

The Zangwills (from left to right): Ed Dowling, Adam Spence, Jake Vickers, Sam Davies. Photo by Steve Forrest.

I seem to be stuck in the UK, as I’m now writing my 9th consecutive review about a British act. But as I’ve stated many times, there’s so much incredible music talent in the UK, and today I’m thrilled to feature Cheshire-based indie rock band The Zangwills. Though they’ve been releasing music since late 2017, I wasn’t familiar with them until their PR rep reached out to me about their latest single “Never Looked Back“, which dropped on Friday the 13th of August. Contrary to the infamous date, it was most definitely my lucky day, as I’ve fallen head over heels in love with this band. To prepare for writing this review, I listened to their entire back catalogue of songs and can emphatically state that I love every single one of them. Their exciting, highly melodic music is outstanding, with a maturity of songwriting and musicianship as fine as many top big-name bands around today. As they say in Britain, these guys are dead good!

The Zangwills are Jake Vickers (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ed Dowling (bass), Sam Davies (lead guitar) and Adam Spence (drums). Formed in May 2017 while in college, they cite David Bowie, Arctic Monkeys, The Cure, The Rapture and The Strokes among their influences. And while those influences can be heard in their music, their sound is still uniquely their own. Thanks to their high-quality music, charismatic, high-energy live performances, and Jake’s distinctive vocals, they’ve amassed a growing army of loyal followers throughout northwest England and beyond. They’ve opened for such acts as Yungblud and The Charlatans, and have performed at festivals like Dot 2 Dot, Focus Wales, Sound City and Wychwood Festival 2019. Their fantastic debut single “New Heights” has been streamed nearly half a million times on Spotify, with several other singles garnering over 100,000 plays.

“Never Looked Back” was produced and engineered by Mark Winterburn (5 Seconds of Summer, The Script, Plan B, James Arthur, Don Broco), and mastered by Ben Booker (Bob Dylan, Elton John, PJ Harvey, Scissor Sisters, 5 Seconds of Summer). The band states that the song is about change, “highlighting the cyclical nature of human life, and the ‘limbo’ between the stale and the fresh, and perfectly balancing out the anxiety caused by change and anticipation of a more positive future. While the verses describe the narrator’s bleak acknowledgment of an inevitable situation, the hook and the refrain illustrate a newfound hope.”

The song is utterly breathtaking, highlighted by a dramatic pulsating beat overlain with gorgeous cinematic keyboards and thunderous percussion, and punctuated throughout by piercing trill-like flourishes that raise goosebumps. The layered jangly and shimmery guitars are spectacular, and together with the aforementioned synths and percussion, burst forth into an explosive spine-tingling soundscape. Jakes fervent vocals are equal parts captivating and chilling, backed by glorious soaring choruses that send the song into the sonic stratosphere. He passionately laments about a relationship that’s deteriorated to the point that there’s no going back: “I don’t know how to spot the truth in that bag of smiles you gave me. There was still a frown or two, and through trust, I’m sat here sifting through. There’s not enough to swallow, and there’s far too much to chew. And now I see in ways I’ve never seen before. So I took that vision by the waist and I danced it to the door. And I never looked back.

“Never Looked Back” is a magnificent song, both brilliantly arranged and flawlessly produced, and instantly one of my favorite songs of 2021. The Zangwills also now rank among my favorite indie bands, and I’m so happy to have finally discovered them.

Connect with The Zangwills: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifyApple MusicYouTube

SOLAR EYES – Single Review: “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship”

Solar Eyes is a fairly new psychedelic pop/rock band from Birmingham, England. Curiously, they have no presence whatsoever on social media, so I don’t know a whole lot about them. What I do know is they’re a trio comprised of Glenn Smyth, Tom Ford and Sebastian Maynard-Francis, that their sound is influenced by such bands as the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Chemical Brothers and Death in Vegas (though I hear traces of The Cure, U2 and Oasis as well), and that their arresting brand of pop/rock is bathed in psychedelic grooves and dreamy cinematic synths.

In May, they released their excellent debut double single “Acid Test” and “Nothing’s For Free”, and now return with the infectious earworm “Naked Monkey on a Spaceship“, released on August 6th via AWAL/Sleeping Sun Recordings. The release is a sort of mini EP, as it’s accompanied by two additional tracks, “It’s Gone Forever” and “The Lotus and the Robot”. Glenn was inspired to write the song after hearing a friend proclaim that “life is like being a naked monkey on a spaceship, with no control.” Finding the line brilliant, Glenn felt compelled to write a song around it, only to later find out that his friend had actually first heard it on a Joe Rogan podcast. But no matter, it’s still a great lyric and song title.

The song is darkly beautiful and mesmerizing, with a wonderful pulsating bass groove overlain with lush, eerie synths, propulsive drums and swirling riffs of psychedelic guitars, all creating a gorgeous otherworldly soundscape befitting a space traveling monkey. I love Glenn’s echoed vocals that to my ears sound like a glorious mash-up of Bono Hewson and Liam Gallagher.

The cool animated video for the song was created by Birmingham-based videographer, lighting and visual design producer Matt Watkins, who’s also created videos and produced visual design & lighting for live performances by numerous acts, most notably Gorillaz.

The other two songs are great too. “It’s Gone Forever” has a brooding vibe, with a hypnotic beat and some nifty psychedelic guitar work, while “The Lotus and the Robot” is appropriately spacey, with eerie industrial synths, shrill psychedelic guitars and a droning vocal chorus. Solar Eyes are fine musicians, and I like every one of their songs a lot.

Stream their music on SpotifyApple MusicYouTube